Senator Feingold: Prolonged detention would set the stage for future Guantanamos

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Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has sent a letter (pdf) to President Barack Obama which praises many aspects of his Thursday speech but also expresses concerns about his intention to create a system of “prolonged detention” without trial for certain terrorists.

Feingold announces in the letter that he plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month and asks for top Justice Department officials to testify.

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“While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime,” Feingold writes, “any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.”

Feingold goes on to note that “such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.”

“Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful,” Feingold continues. “And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not.”

“There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security. “

Feingold, who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, concludes by saying that he will be holding a hearing on the matter in June and requesting testimony from one or more top Justice Department officials.

Feingold has an extensive history of opposition to indefinite detention. When he voted against the Patriot Act in October 2001, he explained that “my focus on this bill, as Chair of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, was on those provisions that implicate our constitutional freedoms. … The Administration’s original proposal would have granted the Attorney General extraordinary powers to detain immigrants indefinitely, including legal permanent residents. … [Even after revisions] the bill continues to allow the Attorney General to detain persons based on mere suspicion.”

When Feingold later announced his support for the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007, he did so largely on the grounds that it would “restore the Great Writ of habeas corpus, ensuring that no person will be subject to indefinite detention without charge based on the President’s sole discretion.”

Feingold, as much as any senator, appears to have both the desire and the position in the Senate to make an issue of the Obama administration’s support for “prolonged detention” in a highly visible public forum.

Feingold’s complete letter can be read in pdf form here.

By Muriel Kane

Published: May 22, 2009

Source: The Raw Story

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